Imagine that a shadowy organization known only as “The Network,” with seemingly infinite connections to the governments of global powers, is capable of orchestrating death and destruction on a massive scale, selectively targeting entire populations for extermination. Imagine also that the key to unlocking this group’s secrets is hidden within an unpublished manuscript for the sequel to a cult graphic novel, which is in the possession of an 11-year-old boy.
No, that’s not the latest Alex Jones conspiracy theory. It’s the plot of Utopia, a British thriller TV series that aired briefly on Channel 4 a few years ago. And unlike Jones, a popular radio host who spouts insanely dangerous claims like the US government is inserting chemicals into the water to make frogs gay, Utopia is actually intelligent and safe to watch.
You don’t have to be a moon landing truther to question some of the truths we’ve been told our whole lives. There’s a reason conspiracy thriller TV shows and films are such popular genres—deep down, there’s a part of us that probably wishes some of the crazy theories about things we’ve heard are true. Entertainment is a great way to satisfy that impulse, and there’s nothing better for that than the criminally underappreciated 12-episode drama, Utopia.
Utopia is staggeringly gorgeous for such a violent conspiracy thriller series. You’d probably assume most of the show would take place in dimly lit halls and back alleys, and while there is some of that, a lot of the action occurs outdoors, where its cinematographers can show off the lush greens and faded yellows of the English countryside. The show’s visuals intentionally mirror the vibrant colors of the graphic novel that it’s about; each frame looks like it was lifted straight from a comic. It shares some visual DNA with the American tech conspiracy series Mr. Robot: Both series make creative use of the screen’s negative space, emphasizing that there’s a lot more going on in any single image than just a character’s body.
Its original music, too, is unexpected for the subject matter. Amidst scenes of unflinching violence (yes, Utopia is crazy violent, so over-the-top and straightforward that it’s almost certainly meant to be tongue-in-cheek), you’ll often hear almost playful percussion played in the background, like a deranged performance of Stomp. Either that, or it’ll be what can only be described as an electronic duck quacking sound.
You can get an excellent sense of Utopia‘s striking visuals, disquietingly goofy soundtrack, and blunt violence in its very first scene, in which two mysterious men enter a comic book shop and proceed to calmly murder everyone in it:
To say much more about Utopia would be a disservice to its story, which is built on ambiguity. At this point, you likely know if you’re in or out.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find online if you don’t live in the United Kingdom. (Brits can watch on the Channel 4 web site, but it’s geoblocked for those outside the country.) If you google the show, you’ll find some sites that are streaming the series in its entirety, but those aren’t necessarily legal, so we won’t link to them. Otherwise, you can buy the series for £24 ($32) on Amazon.
So if all the recent talk of conspiracy theories in politics (many of which have been propagated by the US president himself) has you looking to watch something that’s ridiculous but completely fictional and harmless, give Utopia a try. American filmmaker David Fincher was working on an adaptation of the series for HBO, but it was scrapped recently over budget disagreements. It’s clear that the stylish insanity of Utopia has staying power, and we might not have seen the last of its crazy conspiracy on screen.